Sousa, John Philip

views updated Jun 11 2018

John Philip Sousa

Bandleader, composer

For the Record

Selected writings

Selected compositions; marches


Among Americas greatest treasures is the legacy of John Philip Sousa, The March King. The music of this beloved bandleader and composer, whose most prolific period straddled the turn of the 20th century, continues to fill hearts with a wave of national pride and patriotism. Sousas The Stars and Stripes Forever is, in fact, the national march, and his creative medium, the marching band, has become an American institution.

John Philip Sousa was the child of European parents. His mother, Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, was born in Bavaria, and his father, John Antonio Sousa, was a Spanish immigrant of Portuguese parents. Sousas parents were married in Brooklyn, New York, in 1848; six years later they moved to Washington, D.C., where Mr. Sousa became a trombonist with the U.S. Marine Band. The Sousas third child, John Philip, was born on November 6, 1854.

Sousas relationship to music was virtually inevitable; in John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon, Paul E. Bierley related, Sousas natural talent, coupled with the stimulating environment in which he was raised, has caused historians to remark that his development as the prime example of a musical patriot was a natural one and that he was obviously born at the right time and place in history. The stimulating environment was a musicians home just a stones throw from the Marine barracks; the right time was the Civil War.

At about age six, Sousa attended a music conservatory. For four years he studied a number of instruments, including the trombone and alto horn, and displayed extraordinary talent. When he was ten, Sousa began attending his fathers Marine Band rehearsals. It was also at this time that he became a witness to his countrys torment. The Civil War years, 1861-1865, turned Washington into an armed camp. The proximity of the battles and the familys visits to the hospital to see the wounded were part of Sousas childhood experience. Washington was buzzing with the chaotic sounds of war and among these were military bands. In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa recounted, There were bands galore ... I loved all of them, good and bad alike.

Sousas first professional opportunity came in 1868. While studying harmony, composition, and violin, the 13-year-old was offered the position of bandleader with a visiting circus. Sousa reflected, The more I thought of it the more wonderful it seemed to follow the life of the circus, make money, and become the leader of a circus band myself. What a career that would be! His father didnt see it that way, though; the senior Sousa quickly took his son to the Marine Corps head-quarters

For the Record

Born November 6, 1854, in Washington, DC; died of heart failure, March 6, 1932, in Reading, PA; son of John Antonio (a trombonist with the U.S. Marine Band) and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus Sousa; married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (an amateur vocalist), 1879; children: John Philip, Jane Priscilla, Helen Sousa Abert. Education: Attended music conservatory run by John Esputa, Jr., for four years; studied music with George Felix.

Enlisted in U.S. Marine Corps as apprentice to Marine Band, 1868; toured with musical companies and vaudeville show, worked in Philadelphia theaters, taught music, composed, and corrected proofs for a publisher, 1875-1879; led amateur musical theater company that became professional under his tutelage, c. 1879; led Marine Band, 1880-1892; formed Sousa Band, 1892; toured U.S. and abroad with Sousa Band, 1900-1911; wrote autobiography, Marching Along, 1928.

Selected awards: Gold-tipped baton from U.S. Marine Band, 1892; appeared on postage stamp honoring famous Americans, 1940; centennial medallion struck by Austrian Mint, 1954; inducted into Hall of Fame for Great Americans by New York University.

Member: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; honorary president of American Bandmasters Association.

and had him signed up as an apprentice violinist. In Jon Newsoms book Perspectives on John Philip Sousa, John Philip Sousa III reasoned, For a child with my grandfathers obviously abundant imagination, the Marine Band must have been an acceptable substitute for the circus.

When he was 20, Sousa received a special discharge from the Marines and embarked on a career as a professional musician. He toured with two companies and a vaudeville show, worked at two Philadelphia theaters, taught music, composed operettas, and even corrected proofs at a publishing company. In 1879, Sousa conducted Gilbert and Sullivans immensely popular H.M.S. Pinafore. Under his masterful orchestration, the amateur company at his command was able to turn professional. Its success led to a season on Broadway where famous composers took in Sousas production.

News of the young music directors accomplishments did not escape the attention of his former employer; in 1880, 25-year-old Sousa was named the 14th leader of the U.S. Marine Band. He was the first American-born conductor and the one who would elevate the band to celebrity status. Sousa stepped into the position with the know-how and energy of an experienced civilian conductor. He shook the dust off the stale institution by replacing most of the music with his own, changing the instrumentation, and improving the quality of the musicians. In the 12 years of Sousas leadership, the Marine Bands reputation spread throughout the United States and even to Europe. It became a highly polished ensemble with a colorful virtuoso at the helm.

Though completely committed to his profession, Sousa was able to pursue a variety of interests. He was a devoted family man and nature lover. He also enjoyed reading, horseback riding, trapshooting, and boxing. Sousa was a gentle, disciplined man distinguished by his wit, strict code of ethics, and bottomless vigor. In his embroidered uniform hung with medals, behind his pince-nez glasses and his trademark mustache, wearing his white kid gloves and stirring emotion into the air with his gold-tipped baton, he cut quite a formidable figure.

Sousa led the Marine Band until 1892. He composed many exceptional pieces during this period, including The Washington Post, for the celebrated newspaper of the same name. That march shot him into prominence and earned him the title of March King. The Marine Band recorded with the fledgling Columbia Phonograph Co., and tours of the U.S. and Europe followed. In Europe, The Washington Post even spawned a popular dance called the two-step. When Sousa resigned from the military, he formed the Sousa Band, which enjoyed unprecedented success. Impressive engagements and world tours were the norm until life was once again interrupted by war.

In 1917, Sousathen 62reenlisted, this time joining the U.S. Naval Reserve Force as America entered World War I. Lieutenant Sousa formed a huge musical battalion of over three hundred members and marched across the country in tremendous parades that raised millions of dollars for the war effort.

While the world changed around himmarked by the dawn of radio and the first talking picture, Amelia Earharts solo flight, Adolf Hitlers rise to powerSousa had already earned his place in history. He had become a highly honored and cherished figure. The composer of 136 marches and hundreds of other arrangements, author of several books and novels, and inventor of the sousaphone never stopped working. On March 6, 1932, he died of a heart attack. So ended a rousing era of American history. Nonetheless, Sousa was one of the most decorated men of American music and was honored by many nations. A number of public places, structures, and even a warship have been named after him. Annual ceremonies are held in his memory.

Selected writings

The Trumpet and Drum (instruction), 1886.

National, Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands (compilation), 1890, reprinted, Da Capo, 1977.

The Fifth String (novel), 1902, reprinted, Paganiniana Publications, 1981.

The Transit of Venus (novel), 1919.

Marching Along (autobiography), 1928, reprinted, Da Capo, 1990.

Selected compositions; marches

Semper Fidelis, 1888.

The Washington Post, 1889.

The Thunderer, 1889.

The High School Cadets, 1890.

The Liberty Bell, 1893.

Manhattan Beach, 1893.

The Stars and Stripes Forever, 1896.

Boy Scouts of America, 1916.

The Salvation Army, 1930.



Bierley, Paul E., John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon, Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Newsom, Jon, Perspectives on John Philip Sousa, Library of Congress, 1983.

Sousa, John Philip, Marching Along, Da Capo, 1990.


American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, November 8, 1973.

Musical America, March 25, 1932.

Newsweek, June 29, 1939.

New York Times, April 2, 1978; November 22, 1979; August 23, 1980; June 25, 1981.

Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1987.

Washington Post, August 23, 1976; August 28, 1983.

Washington Star-News, November 18, 1973.

Iva Sipal

Sousa, John Philip

views updated Jun 11 2018

Sousa, John Philip

Sousa, John Philip, famous American bandmaster and composer; b. Washington, D.C., Nov. 6, 1854; d. Reading, Pa., March 6, 1932. He was the son of a Portuguese father and a German mother. He studied violin and orchestration with John Esputa Jr., and violin and harmony with George Felix Benkert in Washington, D.C.; also acquired considerable proficiency on wind instruments. After playing in the Marine Band (1868–75), he was active in theater orchs.; in 1876 he was a violinist in the special orch. in Philadelphia conducted by Offenbach during his U.S. tour. In 1880 he was appointed director of the Marine Band, which he led with distinction until 1892. He then organized his own band and led it in its first concert in Plainfield, N.J., on Sept. 26, 1892. In subsequent years he gave successful concerts throughout the U.S. and Canada; played at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and at the Paris Exposition in 1900; made 4 European tours (1900, 1901, 1903, and 1905), with increasing acclaim, and finally a tour around the world, in 1910–11. His flair for writing band music was extraordinary; the infectious rhythms of his military marches and the brilliance of his band arrangements earned him the sobriquet “The March King”; particularly celebrated is his march The Stars and Stripes Forever, which became famous all over the world; in 1987 a bill was passed in the U.S. Congress and duly signed by President Ronald Reagan making it the official march of the U.S. During World War I, Sousa served as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He continued his annual tours almost to the time of his death. He was instrumental in the development of the Sousa-phone, a bass tuba with upright bell, which has been used in bands since the 1890s.


(in alphabetical order): DRAMATIC: Operetta: The American Maid (1909; Rochester, N.Y., Jan. 27, 1913); The Bride Elect (New Haven, Conn., Dec. 28, 1897); El Capitan (1895; Boston, April 13, 1896); The Charlatan (Montreal, Aug. 29, 1898); Chris and the Wonderful Lamp (New Haven, Conn., Oct. 23, 1899); Desirée (1883; Washington, D.C., May 1, 1884); The Free Lance (1905; Springfield, Mass., March 26, 1906); The Irish Dragoon ( 1915; unfinished); Katherine (1879); The Queen of Hearts (1885; Washington, D.C., April 12, 1886); The Smugglers (Washington, D.C., March 25, 1882). Other: Incidental music. marches: Across the Danube (1877); America First (1916); Anchor and Star (1918); Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (1924); The Atlantic City Pageant (1927); The Aviators (1931); The Beau Ideal (1893); The Belle of Chicago (1892); Ben Bolt (1888); The Black Horse Troop (1924); Bonnie Annie Laurie (1883); Boy Scouts of America (1916); The Bride Elect (1897); Bullets and Bayonets (1918); El Capitan (1896); A Century of Progress (1931); The Chantyman’s March (1918); The Charlatan (1898); The Circumnavigators Club (1931); Circus March (n.d.); Columbia’s Pride (1914); Comrades of the Legion (1920); Congress Hall (1882); Corcoran Cadets (1890); The Crusader (1888); Daughters of Texas (1929); The Dauntless Battalion (1922); The Diplomat (1904); The Directorate (1894); Esprit de Corps (1878); The Fairest of the Fair (1908); The Federal (1910); Flags of Freedom (1918); La Flor de Sevilla (1929); Foshay Tower Washington Memorial (1929); The Free Lance (1906); From Maine to Oregon (1913); The Gallant Seventh (1922); George Washington Bicentennial (1930); The Gladiator (1886; the first work to sell a million copies); Globe and Eagle (1879); The Glory of the Yankee Navy (1909); Golden Jubilee (1928); The Golden Star (1919); The Gridiron Club (1926); Guide Right (1881); Hail to the Spirit of Liberty (1900); Hands Across the Sea (1899); Harmonica Wizard (1930); The High School Cadets (1890); Homeward Bound (n.d.); The Honored Dead (1876); Imperial Edward (1902); In Memoriam (1881; for the assassinated President Garfield); The Invincible Eagle (1901); Jack Tar (1903); Kansas Wildcats (1931); Keeping Step with the Union (1921); King Cotton (1895); The Lambs’ March (1914); The Legionnaires (1930); The Liberty Bell (1893); Liberty Loan (1917); The Loyal Legion (1890); Magna Carta (1927); The Man Behind the Gun (1899); Manhattan Beach (1893); March of the Mitten Men (1923); March of the Pan-Americans (1915); March of the Royal Trumpets (1892); Marquette University March (1924; on receiving an honorary D.M., Nov. 16, 1923); Mikado March (1885); The Minnesota March (1927); Mother Goose (1883); Mother Hubbard March (1885); National Fencibles (1888); The National Game (1925; for the 50th anniversary of the National League of baseball); The Naval Reserve (1917); New Mexico (1928); The New York Hippodrome (1915); Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (1923); The Northern Pines (1931); The Occidental (1887); Old Ironsides (1926); On Parade (1892); On the Campus (1920); On the Tramp (1879); Our Flirtations (1880); The Pathfinder of Panama (1915); Pet of the Petticoats (1883); The Phoenix March (1875); The Picador (1889); Powhatan’s Daughter (1907); President Garfield’s Inauguration March (1881); The Pride of Pittsburgh (1901); The Pride of the Wolverines (1926); Prince Charming (1928); The Quilting Party March (1889); Recognition March (c. 1880); Resumption March (1879); Review (1873; his first publ. march); Revival March (1876); Riders for the Flag (1927); The Rifle Regiment (1886); Right Forward (1881); Right—Left (1883); The Royal Welch Fusiliers (No. 1, 1929; No. 2, 1930); Sable and Spurs (1918); Salutation (1873); The Salvation Army (1930); Semper Fidelis (1888); Sesquicentennial Exposition March (1926); Solid Men to the Front (1918); Sound Off (1885); The Stars and Stripes Forever (1896; made the official march of the U.S. by act of Congress, 1987); The Thunderer (1889); Transit of Venus (1883); The Triton (1892); Triumph of Time (1885); Universal Peace (probably 1925); University of Illinois (1929); University of Nebraska (1928); USAAC March (1918); U.S. Field Artillery (1917); The Victory Chest (1918); The Volunteers (1918); The Washington Post (1889); Wedding March (1918); The White Plume (1884); The White Rose (1917); Who’s Who in Navy Blue (1920); The Wildcats (1930 or 1931); Wisconsin Forward Forever (1917); The Wolverine March (1881); Yorktown Centennial (1881 ). OTHER: Suites for Band; overtures; descriptive pieces; instrumental solos; orch. works; about 76 songs, ballads, hymns; many arrangements and transcriptions.


autobiographical: Through the Years with Sousa (1910); Marching Along (1928). manuals: The Trumpet and Drum (1886); National Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands (1890). NOVELS: The Fifth String (1902); Pipetown Sandy (1905); The Transit of Venus (1919).


M. Simon, J.P. S., the March King (N.Y., 1944); A. Lingg, J.P.S.(N.Y., 1954); K. Berger, The March King and His Band (NX, 1957); J. Smart, The S. Band: A Discography (Washington, D.C., 1970); W. Stacy, J.P. S. and His Band Suites: An Analytic and Cultural Study (diss., Univ. of Colo., 1972); P. Bierley, J.P. S.: American Phenomenon (N.Y., 1973; second ed., rev., 1986); idem, J.P. S.: A Descriptive Catalog of His Works (Urbana, 111., 1973; second ed., rev. and aug., 1984, as The Works of J.P. S.); J. Newsom, ed., Perspectives on J.P. S.(Washington, D.C., 1983); W. Mitziga, The Sound of S.: J.P. S. Compositions Recorded (Chicago, 1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

John Philip Sousa

views updated Jun 27 2018

John Philip Sousa

At the end of the 19th century the name of the American bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was virtually synonymous with the music of marches.

John Philip Sousa was born on Nov. 6, 1854, in Washington, D.C. His father was Portuguese, his mother German. At the age of 10 Sousa began violin lessons and later studied music theory and composition. By the time he was 13 he could play a number of band instruments and enlisted in the Marine Band. He was playing in civilian orchestras as well and subsequently got a discharge from the Marine Band. At 18 he became director of the orchestra at a variety house in Washington and later led orchestras for a comedy troupe and for Morgan's Living Pictures.

In 1876 Sousa joined the orchestra conducted by Jacques Offenbach at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The musical sensation of the exposition, however, was Patrick Gilmore, and it was here that Sousa first heard and admired Gilmore's band. After playing for a number of Philadelphia theaters, Sousa returned to Washington in 1880 to become director of the U.S. Marine Band, a post he held for 12 years. He reorganized the band, altered its instrumentation, raised its prestige, and built up its library.

In 1892 Sousa formed his own band, capitalizing on his fame by calling it the New Marine Band. A concert band rather than a marching band, it made its first public appearance in September 1892 in Plainfield, N.J. Its initial season was only a moderate financial success, primarily because of an unwise selection of cities for the tour. The following year at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago the band attracted thousands of people to each concert. So popular were Sousa's programs that after a few weeks Theodore Thomas, the musical director of the exposition, canceled the more elaborate symphonic and choral events he had planned for the fair, feeling they could not compete. Charles Harris's sentimental ballad "After the Ball" became a national hit during the fair as played by Sousa; its success set a new trend in American popular music.

Soon Sousa's band, operating without any subsidy, proved an economic as well as a musical success. It played for most of the important expositions after 1893, made annual tours through the United States and Canada, and was acclaimed on four trips to Europe and on one venture around the world. Sousa was decorated by the crowned heads of Europe and by various academies and societies. When the United States entered World War I, he was made a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve.

Sousa's fame as a composer was related to his success as a bandleader. Although his marches earned him the title of "March King," he nevertheless was influenced strongly by the style of Offenbach. Sousa's renowned marches include The Stars and Stripes Forever, The Washington Post, The High School Cadets, and The Gladiator. These are characterized by a strong rhythmic propulsion, jaunty, memorable tunes, and more wideranging harmony than normally found in marches. Many of his best marches came from operettas, and some were originally sung.

Sousa's exposure to Offenbach, coupled with the astonishing American success of Gilbert and Sullivan, convinced him to try composing for the stage. He wrote 10 comic operas, achieving greatest acclaim for The Bride Elect, El Capitan, and The Free Lance. For some of his operettas he wrote the lyrics and libretto as well. He composed many other works of miscellaneous variety and wrote three novels. His autobiography is considered among the most readable memoirs in American letters.

Like Patrick Gilmore, Sousa wanted to create commercial music for pure entertainment. His understanding of the great music of the past or of his own day was slight. He succeeded in bringing high-quality military music to the public, achieving an instrumentation for the concert band that permitted effects as soft as those of a symphony orchestra. Artistic results were of secondary importance to Sousa; his first concern was to entertain his audiences. During his 40 years as bandmaster, Sousa lifted the concert band to popular heights it had never attained before, grossed an estimated $40 million, and was one of the most respected musicians of his generation. He died on March 6, 1932, in Reading, Pa.

Further Reading

The best account of Sousa's career is his Marching Along: An Autobiography (1928). Interesting and informative studies are Mina Lewiton, John Philip Sousa: The March King (1944), and Kenneth Walter Berger, The March King and His Band (1957). There is valuable material on Sousa in Harry Wayne Schwartz, Bands of America (1957). Wilfrid Mellers, Music in a New Found Land (1964), contains a penetrating evaluation of his work.

Additional Sources

Bierley, Paul E., John Philip Sousa, American phenomenon, Columbus, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1986?, 1973.

Delaplaine, Edward S. (Edward Schley), John Philip Sousa and the national anthem, Frederick, Md.: Great Southern Press, 1983.

Heslip, Malcolm, Nostalgic happenings in the three bands of John Philip Sousa, Laguna Hills, Calif.: M. Heslip, 1982.

Sousa, John Philip, Marching along: recollections of men, women, and music, Westerville, OH: Integrity Press, 1994. □

Sousa, John Philip

views updated May 17 2018

Sousa, John Philip (b Washington D.C., 1854; d Reading, Penn., 1932). Amer. composer and bandmaster. As youth played vn. in th. orchs. Cond., US Marine Corps band 1880–92. Formed own military band 1892 which became very popular and toured Europe 4 times between 1900 and 1905 and the world in 1910–11. It was a victim of the 1931 Depression. Best known for his superb marches, of which he comp. nearly 100, among them Semper Fidelis (1888), The Washington Post (1889), Liberty Bell (1893), King Cotton (1895), The Stars and Stripes Forever (1896), El Capitán (1896), Hands across the Sea (1899), and many more. Also wrote several operettas, incl. The Queen of Hearts (1885) and El Capitán (1895).

Sousa, John Philip

views updated May 23 2018

Sousa, John Philip (1854–1932) US composer and bandmaster. He composed about 100 marches, including Semper Fidelis (1888) and The Stars and Stripes Forever (1896). He also composed numerous operettas, of which the most famous is El Capitan (1896).